Jeremiah 17, 5-8
- Cursed is anyone who trusts in human beings. What
a beginning! If I start too strongly and do not connect it with the rest of the
phrase, at least half of my listeners will tune out. The prophet was not talking
about the word of honor between people that gets things done in any community! He
was denouncing the foreign policy that gambled the very survival of the nation itself on alliances with neighboring pagan
empires, seeking its strength in flesh. I have to emphasize the ‘human
beings’ on whom we rely rather than God. I have to build to a climax on
the third part of the sentence: whose heart turns away from the Lord.
- He is like a barren bush in the desert. I notice
that the prophet’s ‘bush’ does not wither away, or get scattered by the wind as we sing in the responsorial
psalm. I have read too much natural history, so I know that desert plants are
not barren, and I won’t insist on that today. But everyone agrees that
deserts are harsh and unrelenting places, and the odds for survival are extremely low.
I can project that sense of foreboding as I read the threatening words no change of season, lava waste,
salt and empty.
- Then comes the second, positive half of the passage. Blessed is everyone who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. Here is my contrast, and I have to make it sound like a contrast and not just a string of words. A winning political message would certainly contrast the hard times that accompanied the other guys and
the wonderful times that our side brought. Let me work on that.
- Like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out
its roots. Now I can talk
about a fully-grown tree that has everything going for it. Of course every plant
adapts to its environment, but some environments are more welcoming.
- Climax: Trust in the Lord, hope in the Lord. That trust brings us together.
- Message for our assembly: How do we trust in the Lord concretely
today? Do we rely only and primarily on the force of arms for our security?
- I will challenge myself: To make the second alternative more appealing.
I Corinthians 15, 12 and 16-20
- If Christ is (preached as) raised from the dead. The
phrase sounds like the stiff and unimaginative copy of the Greek (through the Latin) that it is. And it will always sound that way unless I work on it the way a youngster rubs grease into a baseball glove. The apostle wants to put Christ first; Christ has been raised and that is why we proclaim
it. So I would emphasize ‘Christ’ and ‘raised.’
- How can some among you say there is no resurrection?
Here comes the contrast. The apostle is not discussing a question
of etiquette or of community options, but the first principle of our common faith. In
my voice I will not leave any tolerance for a different message.
- Then he presents the opposite argument. Why are we meeting as we do, if
there is no resurrection? Your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. And resurrection has everything to do with another life. He reserves no sympathy at all for worldly success, the message of the sages in every civilization and
of some Christian churches today. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ… I know that the Gospels say that Jesus promised a hundredfold in this life, and I
see some point in that, but that is not what Paul is saying today! I know what
it means to waste time on impossible projects, and I am going to make the last lines ring with realism and tragedy: we
are the most pitiable people of all. But I will save most of my reader’s
energy for the last sentence:
- Climax: Christ has been raised from the dead. I have to read this
not as historical fact but as believing affirmation. I draw inspiration from
Handel’s musical arrangement for the verse in his Messiah.
- The message for our assembly: Do we have any other reason to come here every week to pray together but our faith in
- I will challenge myself: To help to restore the miracle of the resurrection to center stage in the faith of my community.
Luke 6, 17 and 20-26
- He stood on a stretch of level ground. In
Luke’s words, Jesus is beginning his ‘sermon on the plain.’ I
listen for details and have an abundance of them. There is a great crowd;
let me not worry about the acoustics but about the size of the gathering. This
is the Gospel for the Gentiles, and again I find proof: people from Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon.
- Raising his eyes toward his disciples he said. For
whom is this message meant? Let me not split hairs over this. Everyone who follows Jesus is a disciple, and the others are like the rich young man who hesitated and
walked away sad. By my gaze upon the congregation today I will make it clear
that Jesus is speaking to all of us assembled. He directs his message with much
more inclusiveness than the unfortunate song lyrics ‘blessed are your poor’ would have me believe.
- Yes, there is a crucial condition. You who are poor, you who
are now hungry… Are we poor?
Are we hungry? Are we enduring hardships on account of the Son of Man? Or are we just along for the ride? I
want to bring out two ideas now: Jesus is inviting the disciples (us) into this way of life, and we only reap the reward if
we embrace that way of life.
- And after that comes the warning for you who are rich, you who are filled now … Again I want to bring home two points: that these are people who
are not with Jesus, and that they have received their consolation. A mind like Dante’s could expand eloquently
on Jesus’ warning.
- For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. Nearly the same words are used for both
the blessings and the warnings. Jesus is turning the tables on our scheme of
values. It sounded strange to the common ear, but it attracted those who were
swept aside by the rich and powerful. Have I fallen back into the habits of this
world? Or can I speak the revolutionary words as an insider?
- Climax: Blessed are you … Woe to you. The contrast
identifies his followers.
- Message for our assembly: Do we listen? Do we believe
what we hear?
- I will challenge myself: To make these ‘beatitudes’ as memorable as those we hear in Matthew.
From Word to Eucharist: Thanks
be to God that we do not have to choose between God and each other! We trust
in each other because we trust in the God who created and sanctifies us all. When
“we lift up our hearts” we raise each other up.